ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The 32nd Annual Ann Arbor Summer Festival begins on Friday, June 12 and continues through Sunday, July 5 on the beautiful University of Michigan campus. The Top of the Park stage has been temporarily relocated to the 700 block of N. University Ave. due to construction on the previous site. The popular retreat fitness series has been expanded to each day of the festival.
“We’ve got a great Summer Festival lined up for everyone this season,” said Amy Nesbitt, the festival’s executive and artistic director. “Some of the many highlights from the over 140 events that we present this year include presenting Ingrid Michaelson at the main stage, with Jukebox the Ghost on Thursday the 25th, we’re also presenting The Indigo Girls with their new release on Friday the 19th, a very special show we’re presenting this season is on Saturday the 27th of June down by the riverside, the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.”
She added: “Outside we have what we call special attractions. These are more of the free, outdoor, family entertainment. On Tuesday the 16th of June, we’re presenting the Cirque Mechanics and their 22-foot high, pedal-powered acrobatic stage called the Gantry Bike that six different acrobats are doing tricks on while it’s pedaling. On the 22nd and 23rd at the same location of Top of the Park, we’ll be presenting the Magmanus Show, which is a circus duo from Sweden. It’s their first time in North America who will be doing hysterical acrobatics, teeter totter work, Conga juggling, kind of in an Elvis Costello vain. That’s an hour long show and we’re going to do one show each night. On our final night of the festival, the 5th of July, we’ll be presenting outdoors, for free, the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus. It will be a fantastic way to celebrate the Fourth of July.”
People may be wondering…how will the festival be different from last year?
“The main difference is the Top of the Park has been relocated about a block south of its historic location,” Nesbitt explained. “It’s now on South Ingalls Mall and North University Avenue, which will be closing between the Hill Auditorium and the Michigan League. Other than that, I think it’s very modest adjustments we’ve made to the site and a little bit on the programming. For the most part, what people have come to love and expect will be there. This year, we’ve expanded the very popular retreat series, which is a wellness series, alternative happy hour on the lawn of the Power Center. We have free yoga classes, Tai Chi classes and now that’s every single night of the festival, which is 21 nights starting at 5 o’clock.”
One of the other popular activities is when people bring their lawn chairs and watch movies on the big screen.
“People don’t need to bring their lawn chairs if they don’t want to, we’ve got all of the chairs there,” the festival’s executive and artistic director said. “We’ve got a fabulous movie line-up this year. We’ve got 13 marquee films, each one starts at 10 o’clock when it gets dark. We’ve got this giant, inflatable screen, which is great to watch it go up. Folks will camp out with their blankets and we’ve got popcorn and snow cones. It’s a beautiful way to see a movie. All of the sound runs through the major equipment that we use for our bands. To me, it’s the closest thing we have to an old school drive-in.”
This year’s festival runs from June 12 through July 5. Would you say it’s one of the longest-running festivals in the nation in terms of days?
“We have yet to be able to find another festival with the amount of activities running the scope, the duration that we do,” Nesbitt answered. “For the most part, most festivals you find in North America run over a weekend or a week or Thursday night down on the green. We’re really fortunate to be in a community with such strong support for the arts and the festival. I don’t think we can pick up this festival and put it just about anywhere else. A lot of people who attend the festival think, every cool town in the country must have one of these. It’s a real unique thing that a lot of people don’t realize until they spend time or in some cases, move to other places.”
Most activities are free at the Summer Festival. However, donations of $5 are encouraged to keep Top of the Park free.
“Ninety percent of our 140 events are admission-free,” she added. “The marquee talent like the Golden Dragon acrobats and The Indigo Girls, those are part of our main stage series so those are ticketed and very expensive to present. Outdoors, we ask people if they like what they experienced, they had a good time, maybe they’ll put $5 into the kiosk because they got to see four or five bands, they got to see a movie, their kids built something at KidZone, hopefully it was worth it to make a donation each time they come visit.”
Sometimes it gets very busy in downtown Ann Arbor. Where do you recommend people park?
“The best tool for that, by far, is anyone with a smartphone or tablet, we have a beautiful, free downloadable app. It has a wonderful GPS map so no matter, you can figure out how far you are from the different parking options–we have the hours of parking and the cost. Sundays are free in Ann Arbor downtown on the city streets. Then, you can navigate back to the parking garage. It’s all on the free app and I just can’t recommend that strongly enough.”
For more information about the Ann Arbor Summer Festival or to purchase tickets to main stage shows, visit www.a2sf.org.